What you believe – do (through choice, delightfulness, and email signatures)

A dry erase board sits atop a cabinet in our office. I reads, “This office believes in: choices, delightfulness, and email signatures.”

It’s been up there since I and two other team members started in the office and we sat down for a few days as a whole team to discuss what and whom we wanted to be as a group.

It’s in my poor chicken scratch penmanship, but this board has had a beautiful effect on my thinking as I’ve been moving through the district and doing the work from day to day.

When you know the ideals about which you care, you tend to orient your actions toward those ideals.

Why these three?

Choice?

We don’t know the best way to do anything. We know several good ways to do most everything. More importantly, as guests in schools and classrooms around the district, we have only snapshots of the day-to-day, moment-to-moment work being done by the adults and children we serve.

So, we provide choices based on what we see and what we want to do and then present them to people with the offer of conversation to help them curate their choices toward desired ends.

Some might think of choice and imagine a tabla rasa of options, which allow teachers any myriad courses of action without consideration of official district goals and efforts.

It’s not that broad. Instead, we look at what is to be done, what we say we want to do, and the data we gather through conversations and visits. From there, we design choices that align with existing efforts while pushing thinking forward and opening up possibilities of what can be created and produced as artifacts of learning and teaching.

The choices we work to provide live in the realm of the district’s established identity. When we started building the Professional Learning Modules for our Learning Technology Plan, we made certain that each module clearly connected with RtI Tier I Interventions as well as the Colorado Teaching and Learning Cycle. With the implementation of a new state teacher evaluation system, we added language to explain how completion of modules would help teachers improve their proficiency regarding Colorado Teacher Quality Standards.

Choice with a mission.

Delightfulness?

You could just as easily call this the Mary Poppins Principle. Whatever else we do, our team asks teachers to learn new things. For many teachers, this can feel like a daunting task when taken as anotehr component of the demands on their time.

Delightfulness, and a mind toward including it in all we do means finding the spoonful of sugar and trying our hardest to make the job as close to a game as possible.

This is all based on the presupposition that people enter into education because somewhere in the acts of learning and teaching they found joy. We believe that joy should live on well past their initial entrance.

If ever you were to come to our office for a meeting, you’d find baskets of LEGOs on the conference table, multiple dry erase surfaces (boards and tables) for doodling on, light sabres, and the odd viewing of a funny youtube video. We want to experience delightfulness so we can remember why it is important to provide it to those we serve.

Email signatures?

We serve. It might look like troubleshooting. It might look like lesson planning. It might look like coaching. It might look like eternal meetings. When you get right down to it, we serve the adults and children in our care.

When people email us, then, from any of the dozens of schools in our district, it is difficult to serve effectively when we are without the most basic context of who sent the email and from where.

An email signature with a teacher’s site, subject, grade level, and any other information can help us to understand a bit about whom of the thousands of teachers we’re working with.

It’s become boilerplate language in classes and presentations. For me, it often sounds like this:

I want to help you however I can and as best as I can. So, we’re going to take 3 minutes now to open our email and make sure you are telling a clearer story of who you are when you send an email. After I leave, your job is to make sure three other people who aren’t in this room right now have email signatures.

It’s a slow battle, but it’s worth fighting. I can’t help thinking it’s also made a difference when those teachers have sent emails to people in other offices in the district. Now, perhaps they have clearer pictures of whom they’re serving.

They are three simple things. They could easily have been any three other things. Somehow though, knowing we are about choice, delightfulness, and email signatures gives the office a sense of commonality and helps me to ask if what I’m doing aligns with what we have espoused as our beliefs.

If Your District is Doing This, Convince Them to be the Adults

It’s at :51 in the video below that my disagreement with these local policies comes into sharp focus.

“I think it clarifies what an inappropriate student-teacher relationship is,” the interviewed teacher says, “and it identifies the means by which we have learned some of those relationships begin.”

That sound you hear is the intent missing the mark entirely.

It makes sense that a school district should want to protect students from inappropriate adults not because they are a school district, but because it is the job of the community to protect its youngest and most vulnerable from such influences.

Closing down all means of communication online doesn’t keep students safe, it makes them vulnerable or leaves them that way. I’ve always had online social networking connections with my students. Initially, in the days of myspace, I attempted keeping two accounts. One was the Mr. Chase who would accept student friend requests. The other was Zac who would accept the odd invite from college friends and people I was meeting in life.

Moving to Philadelphia (and Facebook), I collapsed them into one account. When it came down to it, Mr. Chase and Zac weren’t far apart and I found myself wanting to live by the standards I was hoping my students would adopt as our district attempted to terrify them into online sterility with threats of the immortality of their online selves.

Throughout all of that time, I’ve never once worried that I would be setting an improper example for students or calling my professionalism into question. In my online public life, I act as I do in my physical public life – someone who is charged with helping students decide whom they want to become and then being worth of that charge.

Moreover, this is how you break down communities. It is how you leave children unattended. It is how you miss cries for help and avoid bonds that can lead to lifelong mentoring and assistance.

Telling teachers they can have no contact in social spaces with students is not “clarifying inappropriate…relationships.” It is avoiding the conversation about what inappropriate relationships should look like, adding to the implicit accusations that teachers cannot be trusted outside the panopticon of school walls, and reducing the common social capital possible in online neighborhoods.

Instead, teachers must be given the tools and space to consider appropriate interactions and online content, helped to understand the proper channels when students share sensitive information online, and be trusted to be the same guides for digital citizenship that we should be expecting them to be for offline citizenship in our schools, communities and classrooms.

Progress? All right, I’m curious.

You may remember I had some choice words for the School District of Philadelphia’s Induction program (see here and here).

What I didn’t write about was my trip to the Office of Instruction and Leadership Support last quarter to voice my concerns over the entire process and offer up some possible solutions.

Evidently, I violated some protocol by stopping by unannounced and asking for some time. Once we moved past the idea that I was there because I had questions about the program and, instead, there because I had some ideas (this took several attempts on my part), many notes were taken. In the end, I was told the district would be forming a task force or committee or council or something to examine the program and make it work for the teachers and not against them.

That was months ago.

Friday, I got an e-mail with the following:

[T]he Office of Instruction and Leadership Support invites you to join our District’s Induction Council [turns out it was a council]. It is our intent to create a dynamic, professional and productive Induction Council who is committed to providing new teachers with the highest level of support.

We’ve three 2-hour meetings scheduled. That should be plenty of time to reshape the way the entire district welcomes new teacher into its ranks, right?

I’m actually excited about this.

More later.

I’ve got potential stuck in my craw

Surfing trash television tonight, I accidentally landed on a rebroadcast of the School District of Philadelphia School Reform Commission’s January 21 meeting. It’s the sort of thing that makes one long for TiVo.

The Commish was patting its collective back for updating SDP’s “Declaration of Education.” The way these people were carrying on, you’d have thought it was the other declaration. At one point, Chairwoman Sandra Dungee Glenn actually attempted to compare the two.

I’d not heard of the Declaration of Education, which surprised me given the District’s usually crackerjack communications department. Curious, I went looking. And, I found it.

The thing that hit?

We believe all children can reach their learning potential and that the achievement gap can be eliminated.

Now, I had taken potential to be an ever-moving goal, furthered by each productive step one took toward it. I’ll never reach my potential because I’m always building on what I can be. I’ll always have more potential.

According to the Commish, though, we’re going to get kids a whole lot closer to self-actualization than Maslow ever expected. I wonder what that moment looks like, “Well, Johnny, I know you’re in sixth grade, but our tests show you’ve reached your learning potential. Scurry along, now. Good luck.”

No, exactly.

What kind of interesting person tells people she’s reached her learning potential? “Yeah, I finished the latest Doris Kearns Goodwin and realized I’d reached my learning potential. It’s a shame too, I really enjoyed reading.”

I know this can be boiled down to semantics, and the easy counter-argument is that this really doesn’t matter. But that only saddens me more. This is our Declaration of Education – a document wherein we establish what we believe and want for the education of those entrusted to us. No better place exists for us to carefully craft a message to inspire and invigorate a sleeping profession.

Let the document read:

We believe all children can build upon their potential and achieve more than they ever dreamed possible.

If we’re making declarations, let’s not ignore the pursuit.